Informatics is changing the face of healthcare. As technology advances, healthcare organizations and providers are able to collect, analyze and leverage data more effectively, influencing the way care is delivered, resources are managed and teams operate each day. You would be hard-pressed to find an aspect of medicine that has yet to be touched by the mass collection and analysis of data that has been ushered in by the Information Age.
One specific area that health informatics is having a significant impact on is the practice of nursing. Though the mission of nursing remains unchanged, the daily work of these professionals is being strongly influenced by informatics, with particular attention to the accuracy and communication of patient data and care.
Health informatics in nursing
The nursing profession is rapidly changing to keep up with advancements and new challenges in the healthcare field. As direct caregivers, nurses are in the front lines of patient care and consequently often feel the impact of changes in best practices more immediately than other healthcare professionals.
Spyros Kitsiou, Assistant Professor of Biomedical and Health Information Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, reported that there are three specific challenges that healthcare is currently facing: the aging population, the incidence and prevalence of chronic diseases – such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and pulmonary disease – and the shortage of doctors and nurses. Though these problems are diverse, there is a solution that addresses all three: data.
“A lot of these challenges can be supported by the avocation of information and communication technologies, particularly as hospitals are becoming more and more interested in reducing their costs and shifting care from hospital care to home care,” Spyros said. “Information and communication technologies, mobile health devices, wearable technologies are all becoming very, very important for supporting remote patient monitoring and home care.”
In nursing, as with healthcare in general, informatics is being used to address the challenges of the day, significantly impacting the way nurses function in patient care.
One of the primary ways that informatics has changed nursing practice is through documentation. Gone are the days of paper charts that had to be meticulously updated with handwritten notes. Today, nurses are more likely to input notes into electronic health records and other systems that keep a patient’s medical history up-to-date and easily accessible.
The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society reported that as the result of electronic charting, nurses are able to obtain information quickly and efficiently, using the information to improve the daily workflow. Storing the information electronically is more easily available to all members of the care team, including the physician and other care providers, as well as staff teams at other healthcare organizations that the patient may visit. As the U.S. population becomes more mobile, it is increasingly important that their personal medical records can travel with them to any office or medical organization they may visit during their lifetime.
Health informatics is also an important part of care coordination in nursing. The ability to track staffing, workflow and communication can help nurses to identify areas where current processes can be improved. This can also help ensure that staffing levels remain adequate, which is critical for providing patients with the best possible care. If the nurse-to-patient ratio drops too low, patients are more likely to suffer adverse results. Maintaining adequate levels helps nurses provide the best possible care each day without burning out.
Evidence-based practices have long been an essential part of nursing. Today, determining those best practices involves the use of health informatics. Analyzing the mass quantities of data collected regarding patient care and outcomes helps to determine how best to treat these conditions and situations in the future. The more data that is collected and analyzed, the more accurate the resulting conclusions tend to be, providing the best possible information for determining how best to care for patients in the future.
The growing role of informatics in nursing has also created a number of new job titles for those with clinical experience and an interest in working with data.
A nursing career in informatics
Nurses at every level now work with informatics through patient records and other technology. However, some nurses choose to specifically focus their career on the intersection of informatics and clinical practice. There are a number of career options available in this lane, including the following:
- Clinical informatics specialist
- Nursing informatics specialist
- Clinical analyst
- Clinical informatics manager
- Clinical informatics coordinator
- Nursing informatics analyst
These roles can be found at every level and facet of healthcare organizations, including leadership and management, advocacy, risk analysis, compliance, consultation, research, evaluation and education. As informatics becomes a more prominent component of the nursing field, job opportunities will likely continue to develop.
While health informatics roles are open to professionals from a variety of backgrounds, nurses are particularly well-suited for these roles due to their knowledge of clinical workflow, previous healthcare education and experience with healthcare technology and information systems.
If you already have a clinical background in nursing, your next step en route to one of these jobs is to pursue training specifically in health informatics. Though there are several ways to do this, one option is to earn a Master of Science in Health Informatics degree. In a master’s program, you will take courses on important topics such as healthcare information systems, healthcare IT vendor management, health information systems analysis and design and organizational issues in health informatics to prepare for a career in health informatics.
To complete your higher degree while continuing to work in the field, consider enrolling in UIC’s online Master of Science in Health Informatics degree program. The convenient online format makes it easier than ever for you to balance your academic pursuits with existing professional and personal responsibilities. And UIC’s program is a great fit for nurses and others who wish to enter the informatics field from a clinical background.
“People who are interested in integrating their clinical knowledge with the application of information technology or vice versa, would be very much interested in our program,” Kitsiou said. “And people who would like to even transition, make a career change and transition to healthcare would definitely be interested as long as they have a basic understanding of the healthcare system and also the application of IT.”
With the right informatics training combined with your clinical background and existing medical knowledge, you could make a difference in patient care in a healthcare organization through a career in health informatics.